In a community where one out of four residents is older than 60, Canton Town Meeting last week approved measures that will improve the life of seniors in the coming years, local leaders said.
On Monday, voters approved $1.4 million for a new senior center at the former Knights of Columbus building on Pleasant Street. Then on Wednesday, voters approved a zoning change to allow a 200-unit senior housing development on Turnpike Street that would combine independent senior housing and assisted-living units.
Brightview Senior Living will operate the facility, which could be in operation by February 2015.
To Selectman Avril T. Elkort, the assisted-living facility was particularly important because Canton doesn’t have such a facility.
“It’s a plus for the seniors, no doubt about it,” she said Friday.
She noted that seniors who have lived their whole lives in Canton now have to leave to seek nursing care. “That’s a dreadful time in your life to leave town, just when you need your community most,” Elkort said.
Canton residents and relatives of Canton residents will get priority at the center, according to Richard Staiti, a lawyer representing the project.
Final approval came after 3½ hours of debate that included an 11th-hour agreement in which the developer agreed to pay the town $600,000 in lieu of building affordable housing, said selectmen Chairman Robert Barr.
The deal also restricts the development to no more than 225 units, and prevents the development from proceeding unless Canton had at least 11 percent of its housing stock counted as affordable by the state.
The senior center vote clears the way for replacing Canton’s current senior center, which has been in the basement of Canton Housing Authority building at 660 Washington St., for 25 years.
The $1.4 million approved by Town Meeting will pay for gutting and renovating the former Knights of Columbus building, which the town purchased last year for $450,000.
According to Council on Aging chairman John Friel, more than 5,000 of Canton’s 20,000 residents are above the age of 60, and that number is expected to increase to 6,500 by the next Census in 2020. Nationally, Census figures show the percentage of people over 60 was 19 percent in 2012.
The growth in Canton’s senior population has been accompanied by expanded services by the council, which now offers more than 100 programs, such as transportation, meals, health insurance counseling, fitness, and recreation. However, many can’t fit in the basement space, and programs take place in five locations around town, Friel said.
At the new location, which should be ready for occupancy by April 2014, Friel is hopeful that all or nearly all of the programs can be under the same roof.
Parking also will also be improved, as well as handicapped access.
“We didn’t buy the Knights of Columbus building for the building,” Selectman John J. Connolly said at Town Meeting. “Location, location, location, and the 110 parking spots.”
That represents 10 times the parking at the former center.
Council on Aging director Diane Tynan said the new building will have no ramps or stairs and be accessible to all.
Robert McCarthy, chairman of the Building Renovation Committee, said the new senior center would be three times the old one in size and would be a new building after renovations.
“This building will be a step forward for the seniors,” he said at the meeting.
McCarthy also outlined the work that will be needed to renovate the building. The building was damaged by burst pipes early this year, but McCarthy said that area of the building will be gutted anyway. Asbestos was found in floor tiles that will be removed, he said, but a June 2012 report showed that the site isn’t contaminated.
Canton resident Alice Brown questioned the costs.
“What happens if you run out of money? You don’t have a contingency plan,” said Brown, who predicted that town officials would come back before Town Meeting and request more money.
Finance Committee chairman Mark Porter said his committee is satisfied with current request for funds and would not approve any additional money for the project.
In other business at Town Meeting, residents approved a two-year moratorium on medicinal marijuana dispensaries in town, twice as long as the one-year moratoriums that have been passed in many other towns.
Residents also approved spending items that included $810,000 for a new ladder truck, $1 million for a water meter replacement program, $443,000 for capital projects at the schools, $443,000 for capital projects for the town, along with other miscellaneous vehicles in the capital plan.